International Relations of India is avery important topic of UPSC mains GS 2 paper. The policy of strategic autonomy helps us understand the base of India's foreign policy. It is important for students to understand this topic clearly and make notes so as to write asnwers in the UPSC Mains GS paper2. The IAS aspirant should also be aware of current affairs so as to add in their knowlegde.


  • What is Strategic autonomy?
  • India's Strategic autonomy
  • When India had to bend
  • Conclusion


Strategic autonomy denotes the ability of a state to pursue its national interests and adopt its preferred foreign policy without being constrained in any manner by other states. In its pure form, strategic autonomy presupposes the state in question possessing overwhelmingly superior power. This is what would enable that state to resist the pressures that may be exerted by other states to compel it to change its policy or moderate its interests. Theoretically, therefore, only a lone superpower in a unipolar international order truly possess strategic autonomy since it is the only country that would wield overwhelming economic, industrial, military and technological capabilities and thus the power to resist pressure from all other states. Even superpowers become susceptible to the pressures exerted by their superpower peers in bipolar or multipolar orders, which means that their ability to be strategically autonomous is not absolute but only relative.

India's Strategic autonomy

India‘s NAM policy has been root cause of its strategic autonomy. India never favored wars and partnered with any of Super Power (Hegemony). Strategic autonomy for India is non-involvement in any conflict which is on political ground anywhere in world. Economic crisis in 1991 compelled India to support Gulf War and bend its Strategic Autonomy. India has signed Defence and Strategic Agreements with Russia, USA, France, Australia, and other nations. But these agreements don‘t provide that India‘s will support any war which is not initiated unless resolution by UNSC (example – India supported War against Terrorism in 2001). India has never signed any military alliance treaty with any country whatsoever. But when matter of Pakistan sponsored terrorism or Islamic terrorism in concern India has always favored Hegemonic Powers

When India had to bend

It follows from this that regional powers like India are destined to be even less strategically autonomous. While they may express the aspiration to be strategically autonomous, their ability and willingness to practice it are likely to be inconsistent and variable. They will resist external pressure to change their policy or moderate their interest on core issues of national security irrespective of the costs involved

Under external pressure, regional powers like India are likely to alter their policy or moderate their interest on non-core security issues if the associated costs are calculated to be disproportionate to the benefits that may accrue from persisting with the preferred policy or interest. A good recent example in this regard was India’s decision to vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency. This decision was driven by the calculation that antagonising the United States, which was pressing India to vote against Iran, would compromise the benefits flowing from improved bilateral relations with America including in the nuclear arena.

Therefore strategic autonomy has often been adjusted in India’s history as per the changing milieu.

  • During the 1962 war with China, Prime Minister Nehru, had to appeal to the U.S. for emergency military aid.
  • In the build-up to the 1971 war with Pakistan, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had to enter a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union to ward off both China and the U.S.
  • And in Kargil in 1999, India welcomed a direct intervention by the U.S. to force Pakistan to back down.
  • In all the above examples, India did not become any less autonomous when geopolitical circumstances compelled it to enter into de facto alliance-like cooperation with major powers.
  • Rather, India secured its freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity by manoeuvering the great power equations and playing the realpolitik game.

Further, the ability of regional powers like India to resist external pressure and practice strategic autonomy on non-core security issues is likely to be a function of the structure of the international order. A bipolar or a multipolar order is likely to provide greater diplomatic room for manoeuvre and thus help avoid the high costs of pursuing a policy or interest. But a unipolar order is likely to restrict the diplomatic elbow room available and thus the ability to avoid the costs associated with pursing a particular policy.


In effect, the practice of strategic autonomy is a function of the power capabilities possessed by a state and of the structure of the international system in a particular historical era. While strategic autonomy is the ideal that every state aspires to, most are unlikely to either possess the necessary power capabilities or enjoy a favourable international environment to practice it. Given this reality, reifying strategic autonomy could prove more harmful than beneficial. If politics is the art of the possible, then political wisdom demands that the best not be made the enemy of the good.

India‘s strategy Autonomy has changed but not terms of Substance and only in terms of Responsibility‖. India as an important rising nuclear powered nation needs Global strategic policy which includes (East, West, South and North). Our government (formed of any political party) is committed to world peace and prosperity of all people of world as enshrined in Article 51 of Indian Constitution.

Students are advised to make notes of this topic for mains as well as Prelims. To read more articles on Foreign relations of India click here